The Dead and the Living

A young German woman learns the past is not as black-and-white as she thought.

With: Anna Fischer, August Zirner, Hanns Schussnig, Daniela Sea, Itay Tiran, Winfried Glatzeder. (German, English dialogue)

A young German woman learns the past is not as black-and-white as she thought in “The Dead and the Living,” another offshoot from the I-don’t-know-what-my-family-did-during-the-war tradition. Less eye-catching than Barbara Albert’s previous work, this is an efficient if dramatically monotonous tale of a twentysomething’s journey into her family’s past. Nevertheless, the pic explores Germany’s guilt-ridden relationship with its own history with an engaging directness and simplicity that seems calculated to enlighten younger auds. “Dead” will live on in tube and fest slots, but also has real educational value.

The Dead and the Living

Twenty-five-year-old Austro-Rumanian Sita (Anna Fischer, who looks younger) is a TV production assistant and student. After attending the 95th birthday party of her grandfather (Hanns Schussnig), she finds a torn-up photo of him in SS uniform, and is dismissively told by her father (August Zirner) that the old man only went to a “training camp” during the war. However, further inquiries show there was no such camp.

After starting a relationship with Israeli Jocquin (Itay Tiran) — the script not always subtly picks up the available connections between past and present — Sita starts a journey that will take her to Vienna and Warsaw, where she befriends environmental activist Silver (Daniela Sea). Continuing her research despite the protestations of her father, Sita ends up in Auschwitz, where she learns her grandfather was in fact an SS lieutenant colonel.

Dramatically, the pic is pretty thin. Sita’s on/off relationship with Jocquin is driven by ideas rather than drama, and there’s only so much mileage to be had from watching someone anxiously visiting research centers. The film’s subsequent developments also make it that much harder to believe that such a bright, inquisitive person as Sita would have taken so long to find the truth.

The script strains too obviously for significance, as when the small holes in Sita’s ventricles are meant to suggest she literally has a broken heart. That said, Albert’s script at least complicates the simple “Nazis bad/everyone else good” dichotomy by supplying enough historical context: This family, like the helmer’s own, has Transylvanian roots, and historical forces meant that the Transylvanian Saxons were both perpetrators and victims during the war. All this is explored via a thought-provoking monologue movingly played by Schussnig.

Perfs are strong throughout, with Fischer doing good work as a fundamentally fragile young woman out of her depth. Often-handheld lensing and an edgy soundtrack combine to suggest the protag’s restless energy.

Popular on Variety

The Dead and the Living


Production: A Coop99 Filmproduktion, Komplizenfilm production. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Wagner, Barbara Albert. Co-producers, Alex Stern, Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski. Directed, written by Barbara Albert.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Bogumil Godfrejow; editor, Monika Willi; music, Lorenz Dangel; production designer, Enid Loeser; costume designer, Veronika Albert; sound (Dolby Digital), Dietmar Zuson, Tobias Fleig; assistant director, Valentin Hitz, Melani Murkovic; casting, Lisa Olah. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 23, 2012. Running time: 110 MIN.

Cast: With: Anna Fischer, August Zirner, Hanns Schussnig, Daniela Sea, Itay Tiran, Winfried Glatzeder. (German, English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Cara Delevingne Talks Immigration, Taylor Swift's Battle With Scooter Braun

    Cara Delevingne, whose faerie character in “Carnival Row” finds herself washed ashore as a refugee in a foreign land, said she was immediately drawn by the show’s fantastical take on issues of immigration and assimilation. “It’s a cause that I have been involved in for a long time,” Delevingne told Variety at the premiere of [...]

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Sublime Primetime

    How Emmy-Nominated Writers’ Rooms Keep Politics in Mind

    In a world filled with elections, social movements and national tragedies, how open should the doors of a writers’ room actually be? For some of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows, those doors are wide open. Before the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sept. 22, the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation, [...]

  • 50 Cent Power S6 Premiere

    50 Cent, Snoop Dogg & Trey Songz 'Power' Up New York City for Massive Season 6 Premiere

    “Power” is entering its final season, but you would never know if you walked by Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Tuesday night. Starz pulled out all the stops for its ratings powerhouse “Power,” throwing a massive premiere event, complete with a full-length concert at Madison Square Garden from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and a [...]

  • Diane Warren'Late Night' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Songs of Hope to Honor Diane Warren, Marc Shaiman, Boi-1da, More at 15th Annual Event

    Cancer research and treatment center City of Hope today announced the initial lineup of presenters and honorees who will celebrate the song and songwriter at its 15th annual Songs of Hope event. Among the music and entertainment industry VIPs in attendance will be veteran executive and producer Clive Davis, producer Boi-1da (Drake, Kendrick Lamar), award-winning [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content